Thursday, August 16, 2007

Mirrors On the Wall: R. Kelly "Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 13-22"

R. Kelly "Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 13-22"

dir. by R. Kelly and Jim Swaffield

There's a point in Chapter 8 of R. Kelly's magnum opus, as James the police officer is on the verge of discovering Bridgette's bizarre secrets, where the room darkens and bars of light are thrown across the nervous wife's face. In that moment you begin to understand perhaps the meaning behind all these illicit affairs and love triangles. Whether you're a gay priest, a stripping midget, or even a multi-platinum world famous R&B superstar (who just so happens to be amidst a rather aberrant real-life court case himself), we've all got our own skeletons tucked away somewhere.

As we watch with rapt enthusiasm as Kelly unveils the latest installments of his hip hopera (daily on, we'll save the rest of our comments 'til the complete tale is spun. Check back next week for a full run through.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pretty Girls Make Graves: Candie Payne "One More Chance"

Obtusity is in the process of moving, and consequently the blog will be on hiatus for a week or so. But as we pack up and head out west, we leave you with this delightful new video from Candie Payne.

Candie Payne "One More Chance"

dir. by Indica

The English singer-songwriter and her director Indica play against the expectations set-up by the sweet music and the even sweeter appearance of our heroine. As a parade of men are distracted by her long silky legs and batting lashes, the not-so-innocent beauty is masterminding a plan to escape scot-free. Meanwhile a crew of stereotypical "criminal" types walk around in the background, subtly challenging the viewer's own perceptions of what "bad" people look like.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Saturday Night Fever: M.I.A. "Jimmy"

One of the best songs of the year gets a far-out video makeover...

M.I.A. "Jimmy" [Hi-Res]

dir. by Nezar Khamal

Disco Dancer, which provides the inspiration for "Jimmy," is one of the great soundtracks of the 80’s, and the Indian musical is exactly the sort of gaudy mess that fits perfectly with M.I.A.’s aesthetic of celebrating the forgotten and marginalized art of the third-world. While the song channels the extravagant emotions of unrequited Bollywood love through dreamy guitars, gorgeous epic strings and her most impassioned vocal performance yet, the video amplifies the effect by riffing on space travel, Buddhism and the "disco" theme.*

The final shot is of M.I.A. tearfully calling out to her lover Jimmy, and it initially seems at odds with the buoyant energy of the previous 3 minutes. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's also a telling moment of sincerity. The artist is, after all, working within a specific style which calls for dramatic gestures and visuals which convey the grandness of human feeling. In the 1983 movie the song "Jimmy Jimmy" is sung by the female protagonist during a dance competition, meant to entice her suddenly hesitant partner to come join her on stage. He never does gather the courage, and she finishes the performance alone. M.I.A. extracts the metaphor from the scene, using it as a mirror for her own struggles with love - dancing and singing in hopes of capturing the wavering heart of her own Jimmy. In many ways her spin on Disco Dancer (which to be honest, is remembered more for its music than its feeble plot) is more romantic and more animated than the original scene - she makes it brilliantly more Bollywood.

*Parts of this paragraph are quoted from my own review of the track at Stylus

The Riot is Yet to Come: Kaiser Chiefs "Angry Mob"

Kaiser Chiefs "Angry Mob"

dir. by W.I.Z.

[via antville]

The name of the restaurant - Noblesse - is engraved in the window that separates the outcast women from the diners who excised them. The French word means what it looks like, but is perhaps more widely know as in the phrase "Noblesse oblige" - a concept which implies that those with wealth or prestige have a heightened social accountability. Or to quote Spiderman, "with great power comes great responsibility."

Director W.I.Z. has previously tackled issues of class and discrimination, but here his commentary is laced with a hint of modern political allegory. The privileged patrons of the glossy establishment observe the members of the bachelorette-party with condescending smirks and glances. Eventually they set the two groups of rowdy drunk women against each other, observing the ensuing brawl with glee - simultaneously sharing knowing looks (as if to say "I told you they were uncivilized") while quietly relishing in the spectacle of the physical altercation. The lower "class" fights amongst itself while the upper, protected by the institutions of society, stands back and watches with a sense of moral superiority - a pattern which could apply to a certain war in the Middle East, or recent riots on the streets of Paris.

Yet it's the restaurant itself which got half these ladies drunk in the first place. And while they may pretend to be above the crowd, the seated folks have the same human desires and emotions as the skirt-lifting women they shun. While one group expresses their sexuality with blow-up sex toys and racy lingerie, the other resorts to secretive touching under the table. The wine-n-dine crew resent the scantily-clad and loud women across the restaurant precisely because they expose the suppressiveness of their own stuffy mentality. They stand in the window and relish the altercation out there because it releases all the emotion they hold back in the name of everything that is "proper."

It's only a matter of time before the mob realize they are being used. And when that happens they will do as they've been trained to do: express their anger through base violence. Sadly only in these moments when the fear comes home do the wealthy and powerful truly understand their social obligations - and hopefully the ersatz nature of "nobility."

Friday, August 03, 2007

Still Not Tired of Hypocrisy: 50 Cent feat. Justin Timberlake "Ayo Technology"

Classy male cinematic masturbation...

50 Cent feat. Justin Timberlake and Timbaland "Ayo Technology"

dir. by Joseph Kahn

Before we get into the obvious criticisms of extreme female objectification, it should be said: this is an exceedingly attractive modern hip hop video. Director Joseph Kahn manages to find novel and visually exciting ways of playing with the cliches of the genre - namely girls, cars and inordinate displays of wealth. As my friend Jason observed upon his initial viewing, it's like the Minority Report of 50 Cent sex-themed videos (which constitutes nearly all of his videos).

But now that we've got that out of the way: are there any men in mainstream hip hop who have any sort of regard for females as human beings at all? We've addressed this topic numerous times before, but from 50 literally aiming a sniper rifle at a lingerie model to JT spying on girls with binoculars - this is just kind of ridiculous. What's silliest about this scenario is that the song itself is literally about pornography - and men masturbating to said pornography. Thus it's the epitome of male sexist fantasy to depict what is normally a lonely and self-pleasurable act as an avenue of expressing sexual power over real women.

That being said, the video would be somewhat justifiable if we were shown the other side as well. Objectification isn't a terrible thing per se - both men and women enjoy being in control and being controlled at different times - but it's the lopsided nature of power in our society which makes it such a harmful activity. Try imagining the opposite of this video, with popular female artists simulating sexual activities on powerless scantily-clad men...and now try imagining that video ever being made.

In mainstream media male pleasure has never been considered "sexy," but it's sad that there are seemingly no directors in the music video community (or Hollywood for that matter) who have the guts to show it - even when the song is actually precisely about 50 Cent getting off far too often to porn. In reality he and Justin are the ones being controlled by women (or at least pictures and videos of women on the Internet), but in the end even the source of this "technology" is shown to be a man playing with his computer in his bedroom.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Some Ugly As Well: The Good, The Bad and the Queen "The Good, The Bad and the Queen"

The Good, The Bad and the Queen "The Good, The Bad and the Queen"

dir. by Stephen Pook

The rising pulse of the music works wonderfully with the brilliantly edited film - splitting apart and turning psychedelic at just the right moment - but it's the content of the images which poses a problem in interpreting this video. On the one hand it seems the director intends to capture the mysterious and mesmerizing spirit of this Sufi religious gathering, using the spiritual experiences of these men to attribute some transcendent power to the music, and subsequently the video itself. Yet as one astute YouTube member so eloquently described it, it also comes off as "Hindu hippies rockin round the Beep man!!!"

The director needn't be concerned with correctly representing each person's religious affiliations (it is actually possible that these men are indeed Hindu, as some Hindus practice or incorporate Sufi traditions), but there does seem to be some problematic objectification of the "other" underlining the final product. Would this video work if the men weren't specifically pot-smoking brown-skinned people? The psychedlia of the finale seems to reference the surge in interest during the hippie movement of the 60's in Indian culture and religion. Yet it's a vague and superficial sort of interest - only by keeping the culture at a mysterious ("spiritual") distance can we sit back and enjoy observing these people as symbols or caricatures of the unknown.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Don't Try This At Home: Dude 'N Nem "Watch My Feet"

Dude 'N Nem "Watch My Feet"

dir. by ?

We've already analyzed the decent Down South "Cupid Shuffle" and the more impressive "5000" from New York, but the freshest dance craze of the moment comes straight out the dear old Midwest. This modern version of the "Juke" is on full display in Chicago natives Dude 'N Nem's latest video, a journey across the Windy City showcasing kids and grown-ups alike practicing some very fancy footwork. Yet for all the thrilling and captivating dance moves, the most exciting fact here is the emergence of another quality Chi-town underground duo to add to a burgeoning scene spearheaded by the flyer than fly Cool Kids.

Depth of Focus Videographies: Radiohead / Bjork / Michael Jackson / Bowie